Judges in Latin America rule in favour of Freedom of Expression

Photo: Personal archive
Thanks to the application of international human rights standards, Judge Luis Charles decided in favour of freedom of expression and information by overturning a lawsuit requiring three Uruguayan media outlets to grant a right of reply.

Judge Luis Charles was instrumental in a major ruling in favour of freedom
 of expression when he decided, on 4 November 2019 that Radio Uruguay, Montevideo Portal and La República were not required to grant a right of reply to the advisor of a presidential candidate who had felt wronged by the publication of information about his past.

Three months earlier, as Uruguay was engaged in electoral campaigns for the presidency
of the country, the three media outlets had published a letter disclosing information on the functions exercised by an advisor to a presidential candidate during the civic-military regime of 1973-1985.

Despite having been contacted by for an interview to offer his version of the facts, the advisor had instead resorted to suing the media outlets to demand a right of reply, arguing that the information in the letter was detrimental to him and that he, therefore, had the right to ask for a space to rectify it.

The three media outlets involved argued that granting the advisor a right of reply implied the information they had disclosed was offensive and inaccurate.

However, to their surprise, a first instance judge ruled in favour of the advisor and demanded a right of reply be granted; a decision which Radio Uruguay, Montevideo Portal and La República immediately appealed. It was then that Judge Luis Charles took up the case.

Three months later, the Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the media outlets, as it considered the content of the articles published was in the interest of the public, that the information was accurate, and that the three media had not intended to harm the complainant.

According to Judge Charles, judicial principles such as the right of reply are a guarantee of individual rights. While he does not believe it is appropriate to speak of abuses of misuses of these principles, Judge Charles believes that it is the very role of justice systems to determine when these principles are relevant.

Judge Charles is one of the numerous judicial operators who participated in training on international standards of freedom of expression and access to information organized by UNESCO in Latin America and the Caribbean since 2014. According to him, the wide scope
of the training gave him access to comparative judicial doctrine and jurisprudence and enabled him to reinforce his knowledge of international standards as well as to access different decisions pronounced on the issue of the media and the right to reply.

The technical independence of judges is a guarantee of rights, and the way of administrating justice in a society remains one of the most important elements to measure democracy.
Judge Luis Charles

Since 2014, UNESCO, the Ibero-American Judicial Summit and the Organization of American States have provided training to some 15,000 judicial operators and judges such as Judge Charles on regional treaty obligations and other international provisions pertaining to free expression, public access to information and safety of journalists.

About the Multi-Donor Programme for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP)

The MDP serves to further strengthen UNESCO’s work at a global, regional, and national levels, by channeling funds towards emerging priorities and the most pressing needs to achieve its mandate on freedom of expression. It enables UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector to address complex issues through the design and implementation of holistic medium and long-term interventions at national, regional and global levels. The clear advantage of this mechanism is that it allows UNESCO and its partners to achieve greater impact and sustainability, whilst reducing fragmentation of activities in the same field.


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